The debate over the propriety of intelligence-gathering by the Bush administration is complicated, and the programs themselves can lose their secrecy (and effectiveness) the more they are debated. The media aren't monitoring the debate. They started the fight by blowing the lid off the NSA activity in the New York Times, and they're pushing the fight day and night, clearly coming down against Bush, that arrogantly unconstitutional rogue.
When given a choice between more information about our intelligence-gathering methods and less safety, or less information about our intelligence-gathering and more safety, which do the public choose? The public tends to prefer more safety. The media prefer more information. And the media would prefer the public believe it agrees with them, even if it has to cook a few surveys to establish that canard.
A recent CBS News/New York Times poll brilliantly illlustrated how the public shifts sides on this question depending on how the question is framed. First question: "In order to reduce the threat of terrorism, would you be willing or not willing to allow government agencies to monitor the telephone calls and e-mails of ordinary Americans on a regular basis?"
"Ordinary Americans"?! The only Americans being tapped would be those suspected of helping wage war on America -- hardly "ordinary Americans." Who could support secret government surveillance of ordinary Americans? It's not surprising that this idea was rejected: 70 percent say they're not willing to allow that, and only 28 percent say yes.
Then the CBS/Times pollsters changed the wording to be much more precise in who is being monitored: "In order to reduce the threat of terrorism, would you be willing or not willing to allow government agencies to monitor the telephone calls and e-mails of Americans that the government is suspicious of?" When the targets are suspected terrorists or sympathizers, the poll numbers completely flipped: 68 percent support monitoring them, and only 29 percent say no.
Now consider that according to the CBS/New York Times pollsters, President Bush has a 42 percent job approval rating, and a 52 percent approval rating in fighting terrorism. It's shocking to see that almost 70 percent-- including a big chunk of people who aren't wild about Bush -- support keeping electronic tabs on our enemies.
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